By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: Thousands of protesters flocked to Tahrir Square on Friday, dubbed “Protecting Democracy,” to call for the withdrawal of the controversial constitutional principles proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Ali El-Selmy.
They also called on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to hand over power to civilian rule no later than April 2012.
Following Friday prayers, protesters chanted “God is great” and “we want a civil state not a military one.”
Presidential hopeful Selim El-Awa took the main stage and addressed the masses, stressing the two demands.
“The people don’t demand, they decide,” he said.
“God will protect those who believe in Him,” he added, chanting “God is great.”
There were around six stages set up across the square.
The scene was dominated by Islamist and Salafi groups and parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and its political party the Building and Development Party, in addition to Salafi parties including Al-Nour Party and Al-Asala Party, formerly known as Al-Fadila.
Hussein Shehata, member of the FJP went to the square with his wife and three children to denounce El-Selmy’s charter.
“We will not surrender to a small group of officials who want to take over our revolution and write a constitution based on their own interests,” Shehata told Daily News Egypt while carrying his four-year-old daughter on his shoulders.
Iman Bakir, member of the Brotherhood, was distributing flyers with morning supplications in the square alongside her two daughters.
“El-Selmy’s charter gives more jurisdiction to SCAF than the People’s Assembly (PA),” Bakir told DNE.
“The PA elected by the people is the only authority that has jurisdiction to elect those responsible for drafting the new constitution,” she added.
The document proposed by El-Selmy gives SCAF jurisdiction over the constituent assembly which will be responsible for drafting the constitution and puts guidelines for electing it.
The document also guarantees the secret nature of the military budget, barring the PA from scrutinizing it.
Sayed Al-Wakil, member of the Salafi Al-Nour Party, said that the Cabinet should not impose its guardianship on the people.
However, there were a few calls by Salafi and Islamist groups demanding an Islamic state, saying that that was the main reason they rejected El-Selmy’s document of constitutional principles.
Alaa Qutb, the spokesman of the Committee for Unifying the Islamic Front, said that Egypt was an Islamic country not a civil state.
Mohamed El-Sharqawy, a Salafi who doesn’t belong to any specific party, said that democracy was the worst system to be implemented in the world.
“Islamic jurisprudence should be the only source used to rule this country,” he said.
A few tents were set up in the middle of the square, members of the Brotherhood, Al-Nour and Al-Asala parties said the original plan was to stay in the square until 8 pm.
“However we might decide to hold a sit-in if the MB approves,” MB member Yasser Borhamy said.
Other independent protesters said they would hold an open sit-in in the square until SCAF steps down.
Dozens of Azhar students also held a march in Tahrir making the same two basic demands of withdrawing the constitutional principles and handing over power to civilian rule.
“We are done with military rule,” said Ahmed Nady, an Azhar student.
The April 6 Youth Movement entered the square at around 1:45 pm after marching from El-Sayyeda Zeinab to garner support for the protest.
The movement said its protest had nothing to do with El-Selmy document and their main demands were handing over power to a civilian rule and ending the military trials of civilians.
Mahmoud Afify, spokesman for the movement, said that several mass protests would be held in the coming period until SCAF announces that it will hand over power.
Other protesters who weren’t affiliated with any political group had the same demands.
“El-Selmy was a pawn in SCAF’s hands,” Ramadan Aboul Wafa, 54, from Minya, said.
“It’s against the law for SCAF to be ruling us in the first place,” he added.
Egyptian flags fluttered across the square as national songs were being played, a few flags including the slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood and others saying “theirs is no God but Allah and Mohamed is his prophet” were also seen across the square.